I never had an SNES, so I’ve played very few games that originally came out on that system. So, while I’ve played Metroid Prime and its sequels, and I’m almost positive I played Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission, I never played Super Metroid.

Super Metroid kept on coming up in conversation, though, so I figured I should fill in that gap soon. And, conveniently, somebody then suggested it as our August VGHVI game, giving me a lovely nudge into playing it.


And it’s good! But also, more surprising than I expected? There were some ways that it was different than I’m used to that felt like a sign of its times: it had a hard time cramming all of what it wanted to do onto a controller, so the select button was way too crucial. Which worked particularly badly for me with the Switch controller layout (either with the pro controller or the joycons); I actually ended up just getting a Switch SNES controller, and the button positioning really did feel better there. But still, too few buttons.

And also one or two of the bosses felt a little bit gratuitously punishing; not awful; but I feel like more recent games would have made slightly different choices there?


But the more interesting difference was how often I felt a bit at sea, but in a mostly good way. My memory of the other Metroid games that I’ve played is that it was always fairly clear what to do next; there was always the question of whether or not you wanted to backtrack, but that was mostly a question of finding treats rather than new core abilities? (I’m honestly not sure, I could be misremembering that aspect.) And, also, I feel like most of the time I could backtrack if I wanted, or pushing forward felt fine, too.

With Super Metroid, though, I felt much more uncertain. It actually reminded me a lot more of Hollow Knight than of other Metroid games: I’d go into a new area, I’d push on for a bit, and then I’d start to feel like I wasn’t sure that I’d been wise to go forward as far as I had; and, in fact, maybe I couldn’t even make it back to prior areas, either because I was too low in health or because I’d gone down in a way that I didn’t yet know how to go up?

Either way, I’d press on (somewhat gingerly!), hoping that I’d uncover something that would change my fortunes. And, sure enough, I would; usually a power-up, but also possibly a new route back to an earlier area. And then I’d have the question: do I want to keep on going in the new area, or should I go back to earlier areas, hoping that I’d uncover something interesting with my new capabilities?

Surprisingly often, the latter turned out to be the right answer, giving me new powers that were either essential or very useful in dealing with what was ahead. But also, surprisingly often, I felt like the game would have been okay with just having me not notice where to get those power-ups, and to have me continue, making the game harder for myself without even realizing what I’d missed.


And, as the map grew larger, surprisingly often, it turned out to be really not obvious where to go next to make it past a hard gate. That uncertainty was again reminiscent of Hollow Knight; though I feel like, with Hollow Knight, there really was more choice as to which area to explore next once you got to where the game was really opening up.

I tried to play without a walkthrough (though I frequently looked at the manual, since I remember how important manuals were back then, and I’m quite glad I did!); I eventually gave up and looked at a walkthrough in a couple of places where I got stuck, but in general, I tried to live with uncertainty about what to do much more frequently than I do with most games these days.


All in all, I really appreciated the experience; I’m glad I went back and played the game, partly for historical reasons but in large part because I did quite enjoy it. The map and challenges are very well constructed, having you alternate between feeling uncertain and tentative versus feeling clever and powerful. And the uncertainty showed itself in a way that I don’t see so often these days, and that, to be honest, I don’t want to see most of the time; but with Super Metroid I had enough confidence in the game designers that I was willing to stick it out and was glad I did.

Having said that, though: Super Metroid is a game of its time. I’ve brought up Hollow Knight several times, and I think that, in some sense, Hollow Knight is a strictly better game across multiple dimensions. But of course Hollow Knight wouldn’t exist without Super Metroid as one of its predecessors; games are always learning from its past, and I bet that, if I’d played Super Metroid when it came out, I would have felt that it was similarly at the top of its genre. (So maybe it’s not so much a game of its time as a game that redefined its time…)

Or, going in another direction, Metroid Prime also improves over Super Metroid in multiple ways. That comparison feels a little less direct in some sense, because I feel like Metroid Prime isn’t trying to do quite the same sorts of things as Super Metroid, so I can’t say that Prime is a strict improvement over its predecessor.

At any rate, a game that’s had such influence and that still holds up on its own almost three decades later is one to celebrate.

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